Brexit latest: Theresa May secures Cabinet approval for draft agreement

Watch the PM’s speech above

Theresa May has secured Cabinet approval for her draft Brexit deal after five hours of negotiations with ministers.

Her position as Prime Minister, however, remains hanging by a thread amid widespread anger from MPs across all parties.

Speaking outside Downing Street on Wednesday evening, the PM said with her ‘head and her heart’ her agreement was the best for the entire country. She warned the only options were this one, no deal or no Brexit at all and that the draft agreement was ‘the best that could be negotiated’.

Confirming she will make a statement to the House of Commons tomorrow, Mrs May said there had been a ‘long, detailed and impassioned debate’ on the Brexit deal.

She also acknowledged there will be ‘difficult days ahead’ – not least trying to secure the support of the DUP party, Labour and hardline Brexiteer and Remainer Tory MPs, for whom this deal satisfies neither, in a meaningful vote in Parliament later this year.

Theresa May delivers her speech outside 10 Downing Street on Wednesday night. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

She added: ‘When you strip away the detail the choice before us is clear – this deal which delivers on the vote of the referendum, which brings back control of our money, laws and borders, ends free movement, protects jobs, security and our Union, or leave with no deal or no Brexit at all.

‘This is a decision that will come under intense scrutiny and that is entirely as it should be and entirely understandable.’

The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier told a news conference in Brussels the draft agreement represented a ‘decisive crucial step in concluding these negotiations’.

Michel Barnier during a media conference in Brussels on Wednesday night. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

On the Northern Ireland backstop, he said if there was no final agreement at the end of the transition in December 2020 they would create an ‘EU-UK single customs territory’.

Day of drama

Her comments come at the end of a remarkable day of twists and turns,  in which rumours circulated around the possibility of ministerial resignations from hardline Brexiteers. Some reports said ministers Esther McVey and Penny Mourdant have been on the brink of quitting.

Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab is thought to have deep reservations about the agreement.

And, despite her comments tonight, increasing anger by Conservative Brexiteers in particular leaves her job in the balance, with hardline Conservative MPs reportedly primed to call for a no-confidence vote tomorrow that would could bring Mrs May’s leadership crashing down.

Tory MP Conor Burns, an ally of Jacob Rees-Mogg and a member of the ERG who had previously said Mrs May should stay, tonight suggested she should stand aside.

He said: ‘There comes a point where if the PM is insistent that she will not change the policy, then the only way to change the policy is to change the personnel’.

It is also thought the 48 letters of no-confidence necessary to trigger a leadership contest have nearly been reached.

The DUP, whose votes the PM relies upon to pass legislation, have threatened to vote down the deal if the backstop plan for Ireland means applying different rules to Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

The party’s leader Arlene Foster was expecting to speak to Mrs May late on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Theresa May leavies 10 Downing Street ahead of Prime Minister’s Questions (PA Images)

Mrs May’s alliance with the party is so fragile that civil servants have reportedly been told to stop including the DUP in Brexit-related emails.

One supporter of Mrs May warned that bringing down her deal will lead to ‘something akin to civil war’.

Responding to questions about a second referendum, Justice Minister Rory Stewart said: ‘If we try to move for one of the extreme options that either the hard Brexiteers are proposing or the kind of option that you seem to be suggesting, we would have something akin to a civil war for the next 20 years in this country.’

On Wednesday morning it emerged the EU said it will retain ‘all the controls’ over the UK under the terms of the deal struck by Mrs May.

According to a note reportedly written by the bloc’s deputy chief negotiator, the EU will set out the rules that Britain must follow until 2030.

“We should be in the best negotiation position for the future relationship. This requires the customs union as the basis of the future relationship,” read the memo, written by Sabine Weyand.

“They must align their rules but the EU will retain all the controls. They apply the same rules. UK wants a lot more from future relationship, so EU retains its leverage.” 

Testing time for PM

In a bruising exchange during Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Jeremy Corbyn attacked the draft deal, calling it ‘a failure in its own terms’.

Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons, London.

The Labour leader said: “After two years of bungled negotiations, from what we know of the Government’s deal it’s a failure in its own terms.

“It doesn’t deliver a Brexit for the whole country… it breaches the Prime Minister’s own red lines, it doesn’t deliver a strong economic deal that supports jobs and industry, and we know they haven’t prepared seriously for no deal.”


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What is in the deal?

The agreement covers arrangements for disentangling the UK from the EU after more than 40 years of membership.

Key issues are the future rights of British expats living on the continent and Europeans in the UK; the settlement of the UK’s financial liabilities, estimated at up to £39 billion; and the status of the border on the island of Ireland.

RTÉ said that the text suggests a backstop to prevent a hard border that will come in the form of a temporary UK-wide customs arrangement that will include specific provisions for Northern Ireland.

These provisions will ‘go deeper on the issue of customs and alignment on the rules of the single market than for the rest of the UK, RTÉ reported.

Highlights include:

  • A commitment there will be no border checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
  • The whole of Britain will temporarily remain part of the customs union after 29 March 2019. This will only end when an ‘independent panel’ made up of UK and EU civil servants decides it can leave it. This is how May is trying to solve the thorny issue of the Irish ‘backstop’.
  • The UK will have to follow the majority of single market rules without having any say in what they should be.
  • A divorce bill of around £40bn.
Former foreign secretary Boris Johnson said that the proposals made a ‘nonsense of Brexit’ (Getty)